Much of this post is based on the work of the psychiatrist and trauma expert, Bassel van der Kolk. While a clear distinction exists between PTSD and trauma there is a lot of overlap as well. Because of this overlap, I do tend to use the terms interchangeably.
When I first started exploring van der Kolk’s work on trauma and PTSD, I was struck by three things:
- How traumatized MAGA Nation is by the propaganda, lies, distortions, and disinformation of the GQP.
- The role of shame and humiliation plays in traumatizing MAGA Nation.
- And, that we are all living through a very traumatizing time in our national and world history between climate change and extreme weather events, the demise of our democracy and the loss of status of the US on the world stage, and the daily conflict and stress of living with open hostility and increasing threats of physical violence.
Adequately addressing all three of these ideas is beyond the scope of this post. We will explore the signs and symptoms of trauma that van der Kolk identifies and match them to the behaviors that we see from MAGA Nation. This process should give us some insight into coping with the rank and vile base of the authoritarian GQP.
Symptoms of Trauma
As far as I can tell, van der Kolk divides the symptoms of trauma into three areas:
- Difficulties with interpersonal relationships;
- Being unable to enjoy life and be engaged in the present; and
- Feeling fundamentally flawed as a human being.
One of the common symptoms or traits of trauma is that the world is no longer trustworthy. It feels dangerous and threatening all the time. A basic principle of human psychology is that the world is constant. It doesn’t change much from day to day. Solid objects remain solid and the objects that they were. The table doesn’t morph into a couch or your coffee cup into a mouse to run around your table. If either of those things happen, seek professional help using the information listed at the end of the post.
The sun comes up every day. There’s only one sun. Shadows are cast and shift at the same rate throughout the day. Any changes that happen happen slowly like the changing of the season and are predictable from year to year. The world is amazingly predictable and cannot be so dangerous that life cannot win out over those dangers. That’s a given, and we’ve all come to depend on it.
Trauma occurs when the world is no longer safe and predictable. When severe injury happens and there is little that can be done about it or time to process the resulting emotions in. He gives the example of the 9/11 attack. Most of us were not traumatized by it because we could process the emotions resulting from it and those that survived it were able to run away and find safety and comfort. Those who were trapped in the rubble and rescued had a different experience.
van der Kolk says that the presenting problem of most people seeking treatment for trauma issues is difficulty with interpersonal relationships. Many trauma survivors have one of two reactions to “triggers” in their environments: they freeze up and are emotionally unavailable and withdrawn or they blow up and are super angry and aggressive. Those around them cannot predict when these reactions will happen. The trauma survivor can’t either.
Because trauma is a somatic reaction and not a cognitive one, many survivors report that other people leave them irritated, annoyed, and angry. They can’t explain it. It just is, and they want them to go away and leave them alone.
As you can imagine, or perhaps as you’ve experienced, these reactions make relating to other human beings really really difficult.
Engaging in the Moment and Enjoying Life
Traumatized people have difficulty engaging in the moment. They have difficulty feeling engaged with or feeling pleasure in what they are doing right now. There minds are reacting to the things that have happened in the past as if they are happening right now. Their focus is on what is causing them to feel endangered and threatened and not on what they’re doing. How could anyone enjoy life or engage in the moment under those circumstances.
Because these moments of traumatic confusion are caused by sensory associations, it is difficult to realize what is setting them off. The moments of trauma cause people to focus on the sensory input that they were experiencing, so whatever they focused on, the pattern of the wall paper, the smell of the breath, the texture of the clothing, the sound of gun fire, during the initial experience will set off the re-experiencing of trauma when it is stimulated in the present.
Sometimes it is obvious; sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the person is aware; sometimes they’re not.
The world comes to feel very dangerous and threatening and the only protection from it is constant vigilance. you can’t engage fully in the current moment and what you’re doing if you need to be constantly on your guard to protect yourself from harm and danger.
Eventually, though, the person begins to believe that their life was always this way: joyless and disengaged. They can’t remember what life was like before the traumatic events… if there was a life before their trauma.
A Fundamentally Flawed Human Being
Trauma and traumatic memories take over your life. It is invasive. It is sporadic. It is all encompassing. At first, the person fights it and tries to control or manage the intrusive thoughts, emotions, and images, but gradually it wears them down.
To cope with the trauma and protect themselves from it happening again, people often assume that they somehow caused it. The reasoning seems to be that if I caused this to happen, then I can prevent it from happening again if I’m careful.
Since few people talk about their traumas, often we think that we’re the only ones. If this terrible thing has only happened to me, the reasoning goes, I must be a terrible person. If the people who loved me and took care of me did this to me, then I must have deserved it.
Eventually, the person comes to believe that they deserved to feel their trauma and that they are completely cut off from the rest of the world.
Trauma and MAGA Nation
When I think of all those MAGAs out there who are punching the Walmart greeters who are reminding them to wear a mask and assaulting restaurant hosts who are asking for proof of vaccine and who are screaming vile invective at school board members as they walk to their cars after meetings, it is easy for me to think that that reaction is at least in part due to the trauma of living in mass psychosis.
First, they see #COVID19 mitigation measures or election integrity as being fundamentally threatening to them. Then, they see the only way to protect themselves as being to threaten and attack election workers, public health employees, and school board members.
No one behaves like that because they have made a conscious decision to. They’re doing it out of emotional reaction to the situation. They are living in abject fear of this terrible thing that hasn’t happened and likely won’t ever happen, happening. The election wasn’t stolen and probably won’t be stolen in the way the Big Lie describes. #COVID19 mitigation measures aren’t taking away their civil liberties.
How often do you talk to your favorite drunk rage uncle and he just can’t stop himself from ranting on about how wrong the Dems are and all of the crap that the GQP conspiracy theories have fed him. How can he enjoy time with his family or dinner if he’s consumed by the anger and agitation that these lies and this disinformation have stirred up in him? He’s not engaged in the moment. He’s not getting pleasure and enjoyment out of life, not when politics invades everything including professional sports.
While they aren’t feeling fundamentally flawed as human beings, they are feeling fundamentally different from you and me. They know the truth and it is vitally important that we all believe that exact same truth or else or else… I don’t know what bad thing will happen, do you? We’ll all get sick and die of #COVID19 like the unvaccinated are now?
It seems clear to me that the process of inducing mass psychosis has traumatized the rank and vile of MAGA Nation.
If you suffer from any mental health issue, or someone close to you does, and if this post worsened your condition or provoked your anxiety or stimulated your trauma, and you need professional assistance in coping with it, then try these links:
- On World Mental Health Day 2020, Ye Olde Blogge put together a list of links and phone numbers from around the world including the US, UK, India, and Canada. These are links to national established mental health organizations and were good last October when we checked them.
- The good folks behind the blog, Choosing Therapy, have a directory service to help you find a therapist near you if you are in the US.
- If you need help and are having trouble accessing services, please let me know. I’m in Cambodia, but I can do Internet searches and was once a social worker. I’ve helped several people hook up with therapists and figure out something. I’m not offering anything other than a sympathetic ear and nudge in the right direction.
The perfect gift for your favorite drunk rage uncle: A FREE lifetime subscription to Ye Olde Blogge!
Or, you could comment, like, rate, or share in his name!
Categories: Abnormal Psychology